Egypt Salafist leader demands UN criminalise contempt for religion

Reuters , Sunday 23 Sep 2012

In run-up to UN General Assembly meeting in NY, leader of Egypt's main Salafist party calls on world body to make contempt for religion a criminal offense

Emad Abdel Ghaffour
Emad Abdel Ghaffour, head of the Islamist Salafi Nour (Light) Party (Photo: Reuters)

"We call (on the UN) for legislation or a resolution to criminalise contempt of the Islamic faith and its Prophet," Emad Abdel-Ghaffour, the leader of the Salafist Nour Party and one of four permanent assistants to Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi, said on Saturday.

"The voice of reason in the West will prevail if there is mutual respect, dialogue and efficient lobbying for this critical resolution," he told Reuters in an interview.

Despite having doctrinal and political differences with President Mohamed Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist Nour Party played a key role in supporting Morsi's candidacy during presidential elections in June.

The party is now ranks the second largest force in parliament and plays a formidable role on Egypt's post-revolution political stage.

From 25 September to 1 October, leaders and their entourages from the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly will descend on UN headquarters in New York for the world body's annual "general debate."

Morsi will make his General Assembly debut along with the new leaders of Libya, Yemen and Tunisia, countries in which Islamist parties are now at the heart of government.

The recent unrest in some Muslim countries – caused by anger at an anti-Islam film made in California and French cartoons published by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo – is expected to be discussed at the assembly meeting.

A few dozen Egyptians protested near the French embassy in Cairo on Friday, but were kept away from the premises by police. The Nour Party and other mainstream Islamic leaders expressed outrage over the offensive cartoons, but have urged a peaceful response.

Muslim protests in Pakistan, meanwhile, turned violent with at least 15 people killed on Friday. The protests followed demonstrations in several Muslim countries a week earlier, including attacks on US and other Western embassies and the killing of the US envoy to Libya.

"A proposal to look into the root causes of the obvious racism against Muslims and Arabs as the recent fierce campaign against their Islamic beliefs shows is much needed," said Abdel-Ghaffour.


Abdel-Ghaffour blamed interest groups for trying to sow discord between Western countries and newly-elected Islamist governments in the Middle East by defaming Islam.

"A new reality in the Middle East has emerged after the toppling of the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak and others through democratic elections that brought newly-elected Islamist governments," said Abdel-Ghaffour.

"There are interest groups who seek to escalate hatred to show newly-elected governments and their Muslim electorate as undemocratic," he added.

His Nour Party plans to produce a documentary film on the life of the Prophet for global release in an effort to counter the California-made film.

Salafists follow a puritanical school of Islam that was revived in Egypt in the 1970s by university students inspired by the 19th century Wahhabi teaching in Saudi Arabia.

Repressed under the rule of Mubarak, the Nour Party emerged from Daawa Al-Salafiya (the Salafist Call), a movement that had previously used only preaching, not politics, to spread its purist interpretation of Islam.

Analysts believe Egypt's Salafist movement, whose followers typically wear long beards, has a devoted following of 3 million people and may control 4,000 mosques nationwide. Egypt has around 108,000 mosques and smaller places of worship.

Last week, Abdel-Ghaffour told US President Barack Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough in a telephone call that, while almost all Egyptians denounced the US-made anti-Islam film, most of the country's leaders and public shunned the violent reactions seen in other countries.

Early in September, the Obama administration planned to go to Congress with a $1 billion debt relief plan to help Egypt stabilise its economy and encourage its private sector.

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